My name is Alana Wilson and I am currently a 2L at Santa Clara Law. I came to law school unsure of the area of law I wanted to practice. They say the best way to know your passions is to listen to your thoughts right before you fall asleep. After navigating through the chaos of the first year of law school, I found that there was only one area of law that really kept me up at night- criminal defense and the rights for incarcerated persons. Once I recognized my passion, I became involved with as many criminal justice organizations as possible – the Criminal Law Society on campus, Fresh Lifelines for Youth, the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office, and the Expungement Clinic course at SCU. Particularly, the Expungement Clinic has been the most unforgettable experience in my commitment toward criminal justice.
At the Clinic, I interviewed clients who qualified for expungement under Ca. Penal Code 1203.4 et seq. about their social history. I also drafted petitions to the court asking for dismissal of their criminal convictions. Penal Code 1203.4 et seq. is California’s current law on “expungement” of criminal convictions. An expungement, or a dismissal, releases an individual from the negative consequences of a conviction for most purposes. Currently, dismissal is available to defendants convicted of either misdemeanors or felonies, if 1) the defendant has successfully completed probation of the offense, and 2) the defendant either did not serve time in state prison for the offense, or served time in state prison but would have served it in county jail had the crime been committed after implementation of “Realignment” under Prop. 47. If a court grants the petition for dismissal, the guilty verdict is set aside and the court dismisses all charges against the defendant. One crucial benefit of dismissal is that a dismissed conviction does not need to be disclosed to potential employers.
I was really surprised by the emotional attachment I developed with each of my client’s stories. One struggled to seek employment and provide rent for his family, because his convictions had hindered the majority of his employment opportunities. He had recently suffered a severe hand injury and needed to find a new line of work. However, every interview was followed by a rejection letter citing his criminal convictions as their reason for turning him down. Another client had not been convicted of a crime in over fifteen years. He had made significant changes in his life, yet he could not accomplish his dying wish of visiting his family in Europe because convictions on his record prevented him from entering German borders. After hearing their stories, I wanted to do as much as I could to help people similarly situated to my clients.
SB 1045 is a proposed bill that will expand post-conviction relief in California by sealing arrest and related records for individuals whose convictions have been dismissed under California Penal Code §1203.4 et. seq. When I learned about SB 1045, I immediately wanted to help get this bill passed. I have seen the direct impact that expungements can have on a person’s life, but more needs to be done.
The relief granted under Penal Code 1203.4 fails to address the arrest record, and arrests themselves are enough to disqualify an otherwise well-qualified candidate for employment. Often times, the charges at the time of arrest are more severe than the charges at the time of conviction because a thorough investigation has not yet been conducted. While Penal Code 1203.4 et seq. is a great step in the right direction, SB 1045 will give tens of thousands of Californians a true “second chance” to pursue better employment, housing, and quality of life. People like the clients I met at the Expungement Clinic will have a better chance at securing employment and will be able to travel, without their past compromising their future.